In 2007, about 2 months after first entering prison, I found myself on the RAPT wing. The Rehabilitation for addicted prisoners (RAPT) programme involves a 12-steps based, four month long intensive treatment and support for prisoners with addictions, using a therapeutic community of women on a segregated wing to protect, as far as possible, the early stages of their recovery. Although I had never experienced crack cocaine or heroin addictions, nor had friendships prior to my sentence with people that did, it had been substances which had led to my offending and an officer, upon seeing my broken spirit within the first few weeks of custody, had recommended I seek support, or ‘I wouldn’t get through the rest of my sentence’ as she put it. I decided, with the support of my family, that she was right and was accepted onto RAPT to begin treatment which involved daily counselling, group therapy, meetings and interactive sessions to help us to resolve the complex issues causing our unhealthy substance reliance and subsequent offending.
I was sat in the visits hall one Friday when one of the younger women received a visit from her mother who wore a skirt which, upon closer inspection, revealed her HDC unit, or TAG as it is more commonly known. Amanda was only 18 and the youngest woman on the RAPT unit, and was trying, if a little half-heartedly, to beat her addiction to heroin. After the visit that day, the energy back on the wing changed dramatically and a few of the girls sat with me in one of the rooms crying as they tried to resist the temptation that had been brought onto the wing from the visit that day. It turned out Amanda’s Mom had brought in some heroin on the visit, hidden under her sovereign ring. As more and more women on the RAPT unit found out, tensions soared and I decided, at the risk of being labelled a grass, that I had to tell an officer to help these women continue the good work they had started in giving up on drugs. The officer, Miss Woolfe, came in to the room and I mentioned, in front of the other women, that heroin had gotten onto our wing and it needed to be removed to preserve the integrity of the wing and the vulnerable women living on it. As she left, I felt sure that we were on for a wing sweep and search and that maybe it was even a serious enough incident for the sniffer dogs to make an appearance. Nobody came to help us that night, or at all over the weekend which ensued. Many of the women used heroin that weekend, and as I watched one more take centre stage while the other women became enthralled by her antics, I became jealous of their confidence and their carefree appearance. Sick of my own guilt and sorrow, I went looking for Amanda, but she wasn’t in her room. I looked three times before I found her and told her I wanted some of what she had. She objected, as a true friend should, to giving me my first taste of heroin, but I insisted I wanted it and arranged to meet her in the toilets to smoke it shortly afterwards. I felt the excitement rise as we smoked her illegal cigarette in the toilet, and then nothing. I felt absolutely nothing, no high hit me from the few drags I had just taken, just panic and dread. As she left the toilet, I fell to my knees to pray ‘just get it out of my body’ I whimpered, desperate to rewind and erase what had just happened, knowing that I couldn’t. I spoke to the officer and told him what I had done. I was punished for my actions, but the officer was not. My rock bottom allowed me to see what we are all capable of in our darkest hours, and how important a duty of care is to vulnerable people who are trying to change, against all odds.